Five Things to Never Say to Your Direct Reports
Recently I was hanging out with a group of entrepreneurs, and as often happens, the discussion turned to complaints about managing employees. This is a common topic among those in management positions — find me a manager, and I’ll show you someone who wants to vent.
As a person being managed, this can be disquieting to hear. After all, I’m sure you believe you’re doing a great job and should be considered with accolades! However, the reason this is a passionate, evergreen topic is because managers realize that positive, productive employees are critical to success — both their own and the organization’s. We get wrapped around the axle about the things we care about most. And of course perspective plays a leading role. We can only see what we can see.
As a coach, I have an interesting vantage point where I am in constant conversation with all sides. (I see the situation far differently than when I was a business owner responsible for a hefty salary line.) I know the manager’s frustration that comes with simply wanting your employees to do a good job with minimal intervention. And I hear the concerns of employees trying to understand and meet a manager’s expectations while attempting to do their best job.
In the middle of these competing perspectives, frustration thrives and judgment errs. I wrote earlier this year about statements you should never make to your boss, and so this one is for you, managers.
There are a lot of internal conversations getting verbalized that should stay right there in the comfortable recesses of a manager’s brain. I know it feels good to get some of these all-too-common sentiments out, but the result is never positive.
1. “That’s what you get paid to do.”
Managers (and to an even greater extent, business owners) feel constantly pinged with requests for monetary and non-monetary rewards, and it can feel tempting to rejoin with, “Why should I reward you extra for doing the job you’re paid to do!” This front line job of balancing needs versus wants is exhausting and no one blames you for feeling that way. Often your own needs come last.
However, employees generally don’t see it quite so cut and dried. Sure they get a paycheck, but they still expect to be recognized for good work within their job description. Some version of recognition consistently falls in the top five reasons employees stay in their positions. You’re better off getting creative and committing to rewards than fighting them. Especially when the job market recovers, you’ll lose.
2. “I never did that when I was in your position.”
This is a spin on the age-old sentiment “these kids today…,” As a leader, it’s tempting to look back on what you did when you were in a junior position and congratulate yourself on your own stellar work ethic and ambition. This is especially true when generational differences crop up — for example how the much-covered Millennials seem to want it all from Day One.
This is never a fair comparison. First, you don’t know what it was like to manage you because you weren’t your own manager. Hindsight is notoriously unreliable as we remember our achievements better than our struggles. Even if you do recall yourself accurately, everyone’s actions are bounded by their unique circumstances, whether situational or generational. There’s no way to know what you would do in someone else’s situation, or they in yours. And finally, there’s a reason that you’re the boss — you’re motivated by certain goals that others may not share. Stop worrying about what motivates you — and consider what motivates them.
3. “I want you to be more proactive.”
My clients will sometimes throw up their hands in a struggle to pin down exactly what they want from their employees with the catchall admonition to “be more proactive.” As the manager, you may know exactly what that means because you’re a seasoned problem solver with an ability to anticipate issues ahead of time. That’s why you get paid the big bucks.
Now realize that others likely don’t share your idea what being proactive means because they don’t have your same vantage point. You see more, have a greater context, and the authority to step into any situation. If you want more get-up-and-go behavior from team members, you’re more likely to get it if you use specific requests.
4. “You need to spend more time in the office.”
Time in the office is usually a red herring for a performance problem of another kind. We all know folks who log in plenty of face time but are ineffective. We’re in a time when work teams are more distributed and remote than ever — and all indications are that this will increase. Managing someone’s office hours feels old-fashioned and frankly, a bit controlling. A recent article in Harvard Business Review, How Great Companies Think Differently, states that great companies allow people to self-organize. Forty percent of IBMers in the U.S. don’t go to an office on any given day, but work in locations of their choosing.
If the issue is that a client’s needs aren’t met or team communication is lacking, call that out. It’s the employee’s job to fix it, and if she can’t or won’t, you have a different problem to solve.
5. “It will be faster if I do it myself.”
Delegation is a perennial coaching issue because most people struggle with it. (For my best delegation tips, refer back to my earlier post.) However, no matter how tempted you may be, resist the urge to take on work to be expeditious.
Doing versus delegating hurts you long term because you’re missing a development opportunity for your staff, and you have limited bandwidth. But also, for employees this is the same as saying they’re incompetent and untrustworthy. It feels rotten and demotivating, and sets up a dynamic where people won’t even try because you’re going to do it your way anyway. A major part of being a manager is developing others behind you, and you do this through managing their work product. Even when it’s harder than doing it yourself.
Managers have had a tough few years with recessionary restructurings and reduced staffs. It’s understandable to be frustrated, but resist the urge to show it. While the job market is tight now, a recent survey showed that there is serious pent-up attrition, with 40% turnover not unlikely in the next two years.
If you want your good people to stay, you’re the ticket. An employee’s relationship to their manager is a primary factor in retention. But you already knew that, right? That’s why you’re reading this.
This post also appears on Forbes.com.
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